Introducing: Andrea, the Low-Key Producer Behind One of the Year’s Best Albums

With his stellar debut album, Ritorno, Ilian Tape’s Andrea has come into his own as a producer. Shawn Reynaldo hears how this low-key Italian fell in with Munich’s coolest label, and how the Zenker Brothers helped push him into new sonic territory.

9 min
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Jun 30, 2020
Shawn Reynaldo

Andrea prefers to keep a low profile. A native of Turin in Northern Italy, he doesn’t talk to the press much, he’s not on Twitter and it was only last year that he set up an Instagram account — and even that required some help from his girlfriend. It’s not that he’s shy or trying to maintain some gimmicky cloud of anonymity; Andrea simply prefers to let his work do the talking. “My music comes first,” he says. “It’s really important to me that everything connected to me is related to music.”

Back in April, Andrea dropped Ritorno, his long-awaited debut album that’s been widely hailed as the best thing he’s ever done. Like all of his previous releases, it came out via Ilian Tape, the white-hot label out of Munich that’s headed up by the Zenker Brothers. Home to artists like Skee Mask and Stenny (an old friend of Andrea’s from Turin), the imprint has become a go-to hub for broken rhythms, dubby atmospheres and techno-not-techno sounds that pull as heavily from dubstep and UK rave as they do classic Motor City grooves.

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It was in Turin that Andrea first connected with the Zenker Brothers, who came to town in 2011 for an Ilian Tape night at an afterparty spot called Doctor Sax. Stenny was also on the bill, and Andrea, who was already a fan of the label’s genre-blurring aesthetic, made a point to come down and introduce himself. The four of them got along famously, and when the Zenker Brothers suggested that their new Italian friends stay in touch, Andrea and Stenny did exactly that. “We met them at the right moment,” says Andrea. “It gave us a push to get serious and make more music.” He began sending over tracks, and less than a year after that first meeting at Doctor Sax, Ilian Tape released Andrea’s debut, Zero, an EP of spacey, reverb-soaked dub techno.

Stenny also signed to Ilian Tape and eventually moved to Munich in 2014. But while he was living in Turin, he and Andrea were practically joined at the hip. The two had met through the city’s club scene, and as their friendship grew, they frequently DJed together and even built their own studio. “Before he moved,” says Andrea, “we were seeing each other nearly every day and every night, just hanging out or making music together.” It’s clear that he still thinks fondly of those days, and speaks warmly of Stenny as not just a close friend, but a creative partner whose influence was instrumental in getting his career off the ground.

The Zenker Brothers have also played a key role in Andrea’s development. Although he initially approached their label as a fan — “When I first discovered Ilian Tape, this Detroit techno sound mixed with dub and deep sounds,” he recalls, “I was like, ‘Wow, I found my thing.'” — he’s since built a deep personal and professional relationship with the Zenkers, who he describes as unfailingly supportive. For years, he’s sent them practically every track he’s ever finished, and trusts their judgement when it comes to assembling releases and ordering tracklists. They’ve also given him plenty of room to grow, even as his music has evolved beyond the dubby techno that defined his early releases. “They always gave me the opportunity to experiment,” says Andrea. “They never gave me any direction, but they were always open to listen.”

Prior to Ritorno, functionality was at the center of Andrea’s creative process. He wanted to make club music, and strove to make tracks for DJs; anything that didn’t fit into that paradigm was basically cast aside. In the last two or three years, however, that’s changed. Outside of the club setting, Andrea has always liked all sorts of different sounds and styles, and eventually he got to a point where he saw no reason to continue limiting himself as a producer. “I started incorporating a lot of my influences and new musical elements,” he explains. “I wasn’t used to playing them in my DJ sets, but I was used to listening to them.”

Suddenly, bits of dubstep, experimental and even trap started finding their way into Andrea’s music, along with traces of the jungle and rave sounds his friends used to listen to when he was a teenager. (Andrea himself was never a big raver; seeing Jeff Mills in 2007 at Turin’s long-running Club to Club festival was his gateway into electronic music.) He also opened up his workflow, making more sketches and working on his laptop when he was on the road. The changes proved invigorating, and once the Zenker Brothers started to hear his new material, they encouraged him to keep pushing ahead, suggesting that perhaps the time had arrived for Andrea to release an album.

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Many artists find the prospect of making their debut album intimidating, but Andrea felt liberated. “I never felt the stress of finishing,” he says. “The Zenker Brothers and I agreed on the idea of making an album, but we never stressed that it had to be ready within six months or whatever.” That patience is weaved into the record’s DNA, as Ritorno‘s golden hues and shimmering melodies convey a relaxed (and remarkably cohesive) vibe, even as the music glides through techno, ambient, drum & bass, electro, trip-hop, IDM and more. There are patches of bassweight, along with plenty of nods to the UK’s current crop of bass-techno hybrids, but the album’s defining feature is its warmth. “My intent was to express my feelings,” says Andrea, “and I was trying to do that with melodies and warmer sounds to make the music really emotive.”

Ritorno (which means “return” in Italian) doesn’t have a specific theme or concept, but the title is no accident. Metaphorically, it speaks to Andrea’s return to music after taking some time out to hone his new approach, and more literally, it refers to the fact he and his girlfriend will soon be moving to a neighborhood just outside Turin where he spent his childhood. There was once a time that Andrea considered leaving his hometown for a more vibrant electronic music hub like Berlin, but he ultimately elected to stay put. He’s got his studio at home, and he’s happy to continue quietly doing his thing whenever inspiration strikes; during the recent COVID-19 lockdown, he was stuck in his apartment for three months straight, and managed to make a bunch of new music and put together a whole new live show.

With clubs and festivals still on pause, it’s unclear when Andrea will be able to put that live show to use, but he doesn’t seem overly concerned. “I really love playing out,” he says, “and I really love having a music career that gives me the opportunity to travel around and meet people, but in general, what’s really important to me is making music.”

Shawn Reynaldo is a freelance journalist living in Barcelona. Find him on Twitter.